We all want our kids to be kind and have empathy for others. And so its worrying when our child hurts someone and seems to show little remorse. Lawrence Cohen outlines a model of the development of a conscience that helps us understand that the road to morality is slow and bumpy. Often children understand what they shouldn’t do but haven’t developed the self regulation to control their impulses. He explains that when kids are emotionally flooded they can’t access their higher thought processes. And so soothing such a child first and then going over the rules seems to work better to develop moral behaviour than scolding or punishing. Very useful stuff for good parenting!
Nurturing Children's Capacity for Empathy, Kindness, and Emotional Connection
Many parents worry about their young children’s lack of remorse or empathy when they hurt someone. They fear their children are budding sociopaths. However though you may have to dig for examples, most children have some capacity for empathy, cooperation, and kindness. A few minutes of family observation or talking with parents is usually enough to rule out the rare diagnosis of sociopathy. Even when children are quite aggressive and have difficulty with emotional connection, the situation is usually subtler than that extreme label suggests, so reassurance is certainly in order.
However, because most parents are really asking if their child will be a kind, thoughtful, and law-abiding adult, I usually combine reassurance with acknowledgment that their concerns are serious---and the sooner they’re addressed, the better. As we shift away from fears of sociopathy, I aim to help parents understand the complexities of moral development through a four-part model of the conscience.
To read the remainder of this article, please proceed to the Psychotherapy Networker website here.